By Vinnie Lione-Napoli
Arts & Entertainment Co-Editor
As college admissions letters begin to roll in and future university students start getting their rejections from Princeton, these disappointed high school seniors can always find solace in seeing how their dream school is portrayed in Tina Fey’s latest comedic outing.
“Admission,” starring both Fey and Paul Rudd, not only explores the surely fictionalized internal workings of Princeton’s acceptance process, but also attempts to humanize the people behind the process.
As an admissions officer at Princeton, Portia Nathan (Fey) does little other than review countless applications and fervently clip the leaves of her bonsai tree. While visiting high schools to advertise her university, Portia decides to stay with her eccentric and estranged mother.
When one of her recruitment visits leads her to an environmentally conscious school overseen by the laidback John Pressman (Rudd), Portia meets a uniquely intelligent boy named Jeremiah who yearns to attend her school. When Pressman insists that Jeremiah is Portia’s son, the Princeton employee begins to intentionally cross paths with the Princeton hopeful.
The bulk of the film revolves around Portia trying to ensure that Jeremiah, whose poor grades fail to reflect his genius, can get into Princeton.
Meanwhile, Pressman, a rootless environmentalist, must juggle both his pursuit of Portia and his adopted son’s desire to stop traveling the world for a change.
Much of the film’s comedy derives from Portia’s awkward behavior around other people and from the absurdity of the application process. College students will be hard-pressed to leave the theater without muttering something about how they got into—or denied from—the schools on their list.
However, far too many scenes feel unnecessary or forced. An early babysitting scene involving Portia is crammed with throwaway characters and trivial symbolic depth. There’s also little chance viewers walked into the theater hoping to watch people assist a cow in giving birth.
Fey seems to be consciously channeling her character Liz Lemon from “30 Rock” in this film, making use of her humorous quirks and quick one-liners to lighten the mood during the more dramatic segments.
As far as love interests go, Rudd gives his best effort to charm both Fey’s character and the audience simultaneously. Unfortunately, he isn’t given a lot to work with as he methodically acts out his much-too-ordinary role.
Paul Weitz, who directed 1999’s “American Pie” with his brother, tries his best to craft a believable dramatic comedy, but occasionally falls short. Fey and Rudd are both individually appealing in their roles, but their budding romance often feels as contrived as the exaggerated admissions process at the end of the film.
One of the more powerful parts of the film is a climactic scene in which the admissions officers democratically deliberate on the qualifications of the applicant pool. As each file is analyzed, an imaginary projection of the student is seen in the corner of the room, ready to be dropped through a trapdoor once a red marker sealed their denial from Princeton.
By putting faces to these applications, a practice employed by Portia throughout the film, “Admission” may be able to put a glimmer of hope in the minds of those anxious high school seniors waiting to open their mail in the coming weeks.
No movie would dare be named something like “Admission” without steeping the title in layers of obligatory metaphor. Of course, the major characters in the film are all vying for so-called “admission” into the lives of their loved ones, no matter the cost.
Whether these loved ones are emotionally distant mothers, long-lost teenage sons or sons weary from the burden of traveling, “Admission” addresses them all.
“Admission” oftentimes stumbles through a myriad of genres and tones, never clearly indicating whom the intended audience is supposed to be. Parents helping their kids through the college application process will likely go home with their own distinct takeaway that may significantly differ from that of the teenage couple or the group of Princeton alumni down the row.
If the film’s intention was to be a lighthearted comedy with a little something for everyone, “Admission” comes close to being somewhat of a triumph.
With that being said, the trailers, one of which features songs by both the Lumineers and Of Monsters and Men, are always an excellent option for those looking for an abridged version of this slightly above-average film.